May is International Doula Month and we've been celebrating by sharing a doula tip a day on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We have compiled all of the tips here, in one easy to find resource, just for you. From pregnancy, through labour, and into the immediate postpartum period, we hope you find a few tips here that you can put to good use.
1. Research Your Options: Find out what your options are for maternity care and birth locations in your area. Make sure you are choosing a care provider and birth location that align with your vision for your birth. Your choices about provider and location will likely be the biggest influence on the course of your labor, birth, and postpartum experience.
2. Find Credible Research: Use evidence based information to help you in your decision making. Some of our favorites include Evidence Based Birth, The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, and The Cochrane Library.
3. Take A Childbirth Preparation Class: The reality is that you don’t know what you don’t know. And while your doula will absolutely share resources and information with you, your time together prenatally isn’t enough to comprehensively cover everything you and your partner will want to know about giving birth and caring for your newborn.
Solution? Sign up for a comprehensive childbirth preparation class. Make sure to find one that includes postpartum preparation as well. There are many options in Calgary that will fit a wide range of budgets, schedules, and personalities. Find one that inspires and excites you!
We offer Birthing From Within Classes and our birth doula clients automatically receive a 10% discount on the class fee.
4. Learn About The Benefits of Chiropractic Care: There are many benefits to chiropractic care which are magnified during pregnancy. Regular chiropractic care can reduce or eliminate many of the physical symptoms of pregnancy as well as ensure baby is in the optimum head down position for birth, potentially making your labor shorter and less painful. One of our favorite chiropractors in Calgary? Doctor For Moms Perinatal & Pediatric Natural Health Center.
5. Hire A Doula: Regardless of how you envision your birth going (unmedicated or epidural, vaginal or planned caesarean), your doula will be your reliable, knowledgeable, unconditional support. They are a walking, talking encyclopedia of knowledge and resources. >> LEARN MORE
6. Cultivate Your Intuition: Our culture doesn’t place much value on our “internal knowing” and we are often taught from a young age to tune it out/ignore it/rationalize it away. Birth is a time though when your connection with your higher thinking brain can fade away and all you may be left with is your intuition.
How can you cultivate your intuition? Start by creating space for quiet in your life. Some ways to do that are beginning a mindfulness or meditation practice, setting aside a few minutes every day for journaling, trying yoga or other forms of body work (make sure to find someone knowledgeable about working with pregnant people), or give floating a try (we recommend One Love Float - Our birth doula clients receive a discount on floats – speak to your doula or check your client package for more info). And then, simply notice what is there.
7. Be Active: Pick something that is also fun and social. Easy hikes, prenatal yoga, or mommy walking groups are great ideas. The more fun it is the more you will want to do it! Keeping active will help during birth and speed your recovery postpartum.
(Keep in mind your current activity level - if you're not normally an active person, pregnancy is not the time to suddenly start doing Crossfit. If you are unsure if a particular activity is right for you, check with your primary care provider)
8. Prepare Holistically: Birth is a rite of passage. Knowledge and physical preparation will only take you so far. There is emotional and spiritual work to do as well. Some things that can help you dive a little deeper:
- create a mother/baby/pregnancy altar
- walk or trace a labyrinth
- attend a Sacred Pregnancy Retreat (facilitated by Seed Holistic Birth)
- meet with a counselor or therapist (both Shannon Kane and Sharon Storton specialize in supporting women in Calgary through pregnancy and postpartum)
- have a dear friend plan a Mother Blessing for you
- or any other activity or ritual that allows you to slow down and be in the moment
9. Consider a Birth Photographer: As doulas, we will absolutely snap some photos of your birth and immediate postpartum period. But we’re always quick to point out that we are not professional photographers, and the quality of the photos we take reflect that. We also sometimes miss some key moments in your story because we’re busy being, well, doulas.
We also often hear from our clients that they didn't think they wanted photos, but then wish they did have them. Unfortunately, there are no do overs.
If there's any part of you that thinks you may want birth photos consider setting up an interview with a local Calgary birth photographer. We have SO many talented, professional birth photographers here. Our favorite, of course, is Bethany Galster. Our birth doula clients receive a discount on her photography packages – speak to your doula or check your client package for more info.
10. Stay Hydrated: Pregnancy places a lot of demands on your body – help yourself out by drinking lots of water. Don’t like plain water? Try infusing it with a bit of lemon, cucumber, or mint.
11. Remember To Plan For Postpartum: Sometimes we can become so fixated on the birth we forget a postpartum plan. Start thinking now about what you’ll need AFTER baby arrives.
- Who will you call if you hit breastfeeding road bumps (see tip 27 for some ideas)?
- What about food (see tip 28 for help here)?
- Along with all your birth books, have you done any reading on normal newborn behavior, breastfeeding, postpartum healing?
- Who do you call if you have a concern about baby's health? (Try Health Link's Early Start Line for babies under two months, or your midwife)
- Do you have a short list of people you can call with "What the heck, is that NORMAL?!" questions?
- Consider hiring a postpartum doula (they are worth their weight in gold!)
Start assembling your village now. We aren't meant to do this newborn thing on our own. Future you will thank you.
12. Rent a TENS: These are fantastic little pain coping tools and we recommend them to all of our clients. Our favorite TENS for labor is the FreeMOM TENS. Our birth doula clients receive a discount on their TENS rental – speak to your doula or check your client package for more info.
13. Create Cheatsheets: A list of resources you may want, positions to try in labor, questions to ask when tests or procedures are recommended, etc. Your doula is also a great resource if you need help and aren’t sure where to look.
14. Ignore Early Labour: We know – it’s exciting! Labour's finally started. You’re going to meet your baby.
But the more you can ignore these early contractions and pretend they aren’t happening, the better for your mental stamina throughout the whole of your labor. Focusing too much on early contractions will give the impression that labor is longer and harder than it may actually be.
Early labour is a good time to connect with your doula, even if you aren't ready for their hands on support yet. Your doula can offer suggestions for coping, ideas for distraction, and remind you to eat to hunger, drink to thirst, and rest as needed. They will also share your excitement that baby will be here soon!
15. Get Enough Rest: Don't worry about walking or moving until active labor. You will expend a lot of energy over the course of your birth, so it's important to rest while you can.
If you need some motivation to rest, ask yourself this question “How will I feel if I’m still in labor in 24 hours?” It’s much easier to rest in early labor than it is to rest in active labor.
Ask your doula for tips on how to sleep in labor.
16. Timing Contractions: Usually, when clients time their contractions, they time every. single. one. However, if you want to time your contractions, we recommend only timing 5 – 6 contractions in a row (try any of the free contraction timer apps available for your smartphone) and then putting the timer away.
When you suspect your contraction pattern has changed (they feel longer, stronger, or closer together), time another 5 – 6 contractions and then put the timer away.
What you are looking for is the change in your contraction pattern over time. Contractions that are getting longer, stronger, and closer together mean that labor is progressing.
There is no magic in timing contractions. Like focusing too much on your early labor contractions, timing every single contraction is going to make your labor seem longer and harder than it actually is.
17. Create A Labour Cave: Labor works best when you feel safe, private, and unobserved. Keep the lights dim or off, and keep doors and curtains closed. >> LEARN MORE
18. Double Hip Squeeze: Double hip squeezes are glorious during active labour. They can provide a great deal of comfort and pain relief. When a contraction begins, your partner or doula places their hands or a rebozo around your hips, firmly squeezing in and up. Have your doula demo this for you during a prenatal meeting.
19. Take Your Break: Averaged out over the course of your labour, contractions only take up about 20% of the time. The remaining 80% of the time will be your opportunity to rest and take a break. Have your partner or doula remind you to fully release each contraction as it comes to an end and to take your break. You've earned it!
20. Hydrotherapy Is Awesome! As labour intensifies, hop in the shower or the tub (talk to your care provider about the use of a birth pool prenatally - not all care providers support this option for pain relief). You probably won’t want to, but we promise if you try it for just five contractions and still hate it, you can get back out.
But you probably won't get back out.
21. Announcing Baby's Birth: It may seem common sense that you will be the one to announce your baby’s birth on social media, but sometimes excited family or friends may jump the gun. If this is something that’s important to you, make sure to clearly express your wishes to family and friends in advance.
22. Honour Yourself: Whether your birth goes exactly as planned or everything changes, honour yourself. Whatever your thoughts or feelings about your journey, they are valid. Find someone you trust to debrief your birth with, someone who can hold space for you, and can acknowledge and validate all your feelings and experiences without trying to “fix” them or change them.
23. Invest In Your Recovery: Congratulations! You have just had a baby. These next few days and weeks are when you want to really invest in your physical and emotional recovery. Delegate as many responsibilities as you can (ideally, your only jobs should be to feed your baby and rest). Stay in bed. Let others feed you nourishing foods. Sloooooooow down and attune to the new rhythm of your life.
It won’t be like this forever. We promise.
Don’t rush the recovery phase. Take the time now. Our bodies have a way of making us pay the bill - so do it now, on your terms, when your village is ready and eager to help.
24. Consider Placenta Encapsulation: There is strong anecdotal evidence that taking placenta pills following birth can aid in your postpartum recovery. While there isn't a lot of scientific evidence available on placenta encapsulation yet, you can learn more about what we DO know here.
Looking for an encapsulator in Calgary? We recommend Serene Mama Birth Services. Our birth doula clients receive a discount on all placenta encapsulation packages – speak to your doula or check your client package for more info.
25. Use Padsicles: Your perineum will thank you! If you're birthing in hospital, they usually have some available on the unit. If you're birthing at home or at the birth centre, or for after you've been discharged, you'll need to have your own pre-made padsicles on hand.
26. Respect Your Pelvic Floor: There are a lot of myths out there about what’s “normal” for women after birth:
- It’s normal for sex to be painful.
- It’s normal to pee yourself a bit when you cough/sneeze/run/jump on a trampoline.
- It's normal to feel like your insides are about to fall out of your lady bits.
In our culture, we consider this the price we pay for having babies. Well. At Five Elements Birth Services, we say codswallop. Seek out a pelvic floor physiotherapist when you’re ready for an assessment and support in healing and restoring optimum pelvic floor health. Better yet, do some research prenatally to find out how best to support your healing and recovery beginning immediately after birth. Future you will thank you.
27. Know Your Breastfeeding Resources: If something isn’t quite right with breastfeeding, do NOT power through it. Seek out help. It is much easier to address breastfeeding concerns when they first start then when they’ve been ongoing and cumulative over several weeks.
Your doula can be a great starting resource. If anything is outside their scope or expertise, they can refer you on. Calgary boasts multiple breastfeeding clinics throughout the city (some you can self-refer to, others require a referral from your doctor or midwife - your doula can help you figure this out). We also adore AJ Hadfield for in home breastfeeding support.
28. Eat Nourishing Food: Whether this means you pre-prep a bunch of your favorite meals and stockpile them in your deep freeze, arrange for friends and family to help by organizing a meal train, or have a list of your favorite (healthy!) take out places on your fridge, make sure you have a plan for lots of nourishing foods postpartum.
You are healing and making milk! Your body needs the added nutritional support. Guess what? Future you will thank you.
29. Write Your Story: Your perception of your birth experience is unique. Consider writing your birth story and capturing some of what you thought and felt along your journey. Whether you keep it as a private memento or share it with others is totally up to you.
You'll be surprised at how quickly the memories begin to blur so do what works for you - whether that's jotting down notes in your phone, or writing it out from start to finish in a journal you've set aside specifically for your pregnancy journey.
30. Seek Help: Be aware of the common signs of postpartum mood concerns and seek help if you feel that things are “off”. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you’ll be back to feeling like yourself. You do not need to suffer alone. Your doula and partner may notice symptoms before you do. Encourage them to support you in seeking help if needed.
31. Build Your Village: The postpartum period is a time in your life with unique challenges and blessings. Finding like-minded peers who can understand what you are going through, cheer you on, and normalize your experience will be a huge support to you. Whether this community is online or in real life, seek them out. There are many groups that meet throughout Calgary - ask your doula for suggestions.
What other tips would you add? What would have been helpful to you to know about pregnancy,
birth, or postpartum?
Rachel is a DONA International Certified Birth Doula, Birthing From Within mentor, and mother of three. She is passionate about helping women and their partners discover their own inner strength and wisdom so that they can begin their parenting journey with confidence. With a focus on supporting her clients as they determine what their own priorities and preferences are for their birth while giving them the tools they need to realize those priorities, she feels fortunate to witness her clients come into their own and become their own best advocates.